Robert C. Mann, D.M.A.
Resource Library Director
Church Music Institute
When church choir directors plan music for the liturgical year, it is sensible to consider on-line resources of anthems free to the user. Copies of this music can be downloaded with no charge, a significant asset to music budgets. I recommend a list on the CMI website that will be helpful in selecting public domain sources to download music. It is a list of Free Internet Sheet Music Resources by Benjamin Kolodziej. Click here to view the list.
The Choral Public Domain Library (www.cpdl.org) is an internet library of sacred and secular choral music scores free for downloading. No membership is required. The Library is maintained by ChoralWiki, and all music is edited and submitted to the Library by volunteers. The electronic search for titles and composers is uncomplicated, and the user can search for anthems according to liturgical seasons.
Music scores contained in this Library are of two kinds: compositions for which copyright restrictions have expired or compositions intended for free use by the composers. The former compositions are from the late 19th-century on back, the latter by more recent composers.
With anticipation, I began an extensive search of CPDL’s list of compositions appropriate for Advent. Knowing that Advent is a reflective season of preparation in the liturgical cycle, I still found a list of nearly two hundred titles. Many compositions are arrangements that use German chorales or Gregorian chant appropriate to Advent. Other compositions are cantata movements by J.S. Bach and other Baroque composers.
These compositions generally are in the original language of the musical source, German or Latin, but without English translations that can be sung in lieu of the original. This is unfortunate for most of our church choirs but not unexpected for music by European composers from the 19th century and prior. Compositions with English texts are less abundant and, for a plethora of reasons, numerous contemporary pieces in this category are less desirable and would not fit the needs of the majority of choirs CMI represents. Consequently, choices for usable anthems with English texts from the CPDL list are limited.
With this said, several Advent anthems in English selected from this list are highly recommended.
Consider the settings of the Magnificat by English composers Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Joseph Barnby (1838-1896). Liturgically appropriate for the third and fourth Sundays in Advent, the text comes from Luke 1:46-55, My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord.
Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G, op. 81 is a lovely work that uses SATB chorus, Soprano soloist in the Magnificat, Baritone soloist in the Nunc, and organ accompaniment. Movements are independent of each other. To find the work on CPDL, use #6952. The choral part is moderately difficult, easily learned, and can be sung by any choir that can sing, for example, Paul Manz’ E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come. The organ part requires a qualified player but is not difficult. The solo part for soprano is crucial to the success of the piece and does not require an excessive vocal range (g2). Magnificat in C, op.115 (#11540) by Stanford is similar to op. 81 but does not use a soprano solo. Magnificat in E (#22688) by Joseph Barnby is similar in style and level of difficulty to the previous ones and is a bit shorter.
A text that sometimes finds its way into the late Advent season is Christina Rosetti’s In the Bleak Mid-Winter. One of the most beautiful settings of this text for choir is found in CPDL’s Library (#12098). It is the work of English composer Harold Darke (1888-1976) and is scored for SATB chorus and Organ accompaniment (very easy). This piece is simple and can be sung by almost all choirs. This excellent arrangement should be in the repertoire of all church choirs and is free!
Regrettably, the few compositions discussed above are the best Advent anthems from the CPDL list for accommodating moderate to smaller sized choirs. Fortunately for planners of worship music, however, major publishing houses have given us a commendable number of liturgically and musically appropriate anthems for Advent that fill the void from earlier stylistic periods. We can rely on these compositions, and for title suggestions please see our eLibrary database, Advent.
Although Advent anthems in English from the CPDL list are limited, there is a selection of Introits and Sentences for Advent. Most of these are recently composed, short in length, and can be sung by a majority of choirs. Texts are scriptures related to Advent or lectionary readings of the season. If your church is not in the practice of using a choral call to worship, you might consider using one each Sunday in Advent as a meaningful way to begin the liturgy. Here are some choices from the CPDL list:
Advent Sentence Wardman, Toby SATB Kbd #5045 Isaiah 40:5 13 meas.
I Look from Afar Drexler, David SATB 2 Cantors Acap #10417 Anthem (Sarum chant) It would be necessary to select a section or two of this piece to use as an Introit
Lord, We Beseech Thee Batten, Adrian (c.1590-1637) SATB Kbd #22260 (Collect for 3rd Sunday in Advent)
Let the Clouds Rain Down Giffen, Charles H. SATB acap #13137 (Introit for 4th Sunday in Advent) Use first section for short Introit
A Tender Shoot Goldschmidt, Otto SATB Acap #10526
There Is No Rose of Such Virtue Porter, Tim SAB/SATB (2 versions) Acap #14766 (Medieval text)
Come, Redeemer Boyd, Clifford SATB #04901 (Can’t retrieve using #; try composer instead) Text is translation of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland
Harmonies in some of these compositions may challenge your choir to listen and tune in different ways than some music they sing. None of these pieces is difficult. Several of the works are the length of anthems and would need to be abbreviated for use at the start of worship. All texts are appropriate for the Advent season and will set a proper focus for the liturgy that follows. Try several and see if they add a reverential beginning to your worship experience.
And, there is another website to know that is a source for mostly familiar Advent and Christmas carols, German chorales, and hymns. It is www.ChristmasCarolMusic.org. These effortless versions are not arrangements but simple four-part settings that also have instrumental parts included. This website provides a free source for copying carols for use as Introits or within the worship service. For Advent: Watchman, Tell Us of the Night; Prepare the Way, O Zion; Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light; The Angel Gabriel.